CRAWFORD | Quick takeaways from Kentucky's 88-67 win over EKU - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Quick takeaways from Kentucky's 88-67 win over EKU

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WDRB photo by Eric Crawford. WDRB photo by Eric Crawford.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) — University of Kentucky coach John Calipari spent a no-more-Mr.-Nice-Cal week of practice hoping to instill some defensive toughness in his team in the wake of last Thursday’s loss at UCLA.

Chances are, the Wildcats can count on seeing more of that.

Against Eastern Kentucky on Wednesday night in Rupp Arena, Calipari saw some high-level offense and rebounding. The hard-nosed defense? That’ll have to wait for another night.

The Wildcats couldn’t quite shut down the Colonels, who doggedly stuck around, and were down single digits with just under six minutes to play before Kentucky went on a 15-2 run to win 88-67.

“We’re still a ways away, folks,” UK coach John Calipari said. “We still don’t get stops to put games away. . . . All these teams that we’ve played, like EKU, they’re all good teams. We’ve got to shoot a little bit better. Tyler and Jamal (Murray) need to shoot it a little better, but I’m not worried about it.”

Looking at the stats, it’s hard to figure how this game was that close. UK scored its first 28 points from the field in the paint, and outrebounded EKU 50-25 for the game.

The Wildcats shot 54.7 percent. You shoot that well at home, you should be enjoying the kind of blowout Purdue had against Howard (ranked 24 spots below EKU in Pomeroy, 93-55) or Michigan State had against Maryland-Eastern Shore (a team ranked 100 spots below EKU in Pomeroy, 78-35).

Those teams are more experienced, and have a better idea of the kind of defense required to achieve domination. Kentucky’s isn’t there yet, and it might not be. The Wildcats are a different kind of team. Not only is it younger, but it’s still searching to find the right balance in utilizing its depth of talent at guard.

Some quick takeaways:

1). POYTHRESS IS A MUST. Alex Poythress is the one player with the experience and strength to be an enforcer on this team, but he needs to stay out of foul trouble. Fouls aren’t a subject that have meant much in Lexington for a while. With last year’s platoons, foul trouble was non-existent.

But this season, if Poythress, or Tyler Ulis, or Marcus Lee gets into foul trouble, it’s a problem for this team.

For a second straight game, Poythress was on the bench in a key late stretch, saddled with four fouls. In this case, the Wildcats were able to play through it in the second half. Against better teams, they might not be.

“I thought Alex was outstanding,” UK coach John Calipari said. “I thought Marcus Lee was good in the second half and I thought Skal (Labissiere) made strides.”

When Poythress was on the court, he was outstanding. He led the Wildcats with 21 points on 9 of 12 shooting and pulled down a team-high 13 rebounds.

“He’s a pro when he wants to be,” EKU coach Dan McHale said.

2). CAL’S TAKE. The UK coach was happy with Poythress. He wasn’t happy with 17 turnovers in the game. And he took Labissiere out at the end of the game to teach a lesson.

“There was a rebound that we really needed at the end of the game, and Skal lets another guy get it and he has to come out,” Calipari said. “If you do that, I can’t have you out there.”

Calipari acknowledged he’s still looking for that answer for toughness in the post. He noted Poythress could be that player. He says Laibissiere could develop into that player.

And he notes that Tai Wynyard, a 6-10 center from New Zealand, could be a factor when he joins the team for the second semester. Calipari said he’ll get to campus on Dec. 18, but that he hasn’t seen him play in person, only on tape. Calipari said Wynyard could be ready to play by the time UK faces Louisville on Dec. 26, “But that’s probably not the ideal game.”

“Ty’s 6-10, 260, could he be the answer of toughness and other guys have to take a back seat?” Calipari said. “I don’t know. We need to get him here.”

The Wildcats got 16 points from Murray, but he was just 6 of 15 from the field. Lee finished with 11 points, while Ulis and Labissiere had 10.

3). EKU LOOKS PROMISING. The Colonels came in and scrapped, and that’s what first-year coach Dan McHale wanted. He urged his team to be the first to balls on the ground, to outwork Kentucky, and for a lot of the game it did.

“I think we showed what we’re about,” McHale said. “We fought hard. We just couldn’t keep them out of the paint, and we couldn’t keep them off the offensive boards. And at the end, we couldn’t get consecutive stops. . . . We started to go one-on-five with about five minutes left in the game, and we didn’t need to.”

McHale knows plenty about Kentucky. He was a student manager under the legendary equipment manager Bill Keightley for four years. When he took the court Wednesday night, he did so with Van Florence, a head of UK’s Committee of 101, who is in failing health.

“I wanted to have a close to Mr. Keightley with me as I could,” McHale said.

Of Kentucky, McHale said, “They haven’t even come close to hitting their ceiling yet.”

4). NEXT UP. Kentucky gets Arizona State, a 6-2 team which just beat Texas A&M by 13 points, on Saturday.

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